Arkansas safety Alan Turner wasn’t projected as a starter when the 2013 season began. But after being in the lineup every game this season, the junior is on pace to wrap up the season as the Razorbacks’ leading tackler.
Turner, who had a career-high 16 tackles in Arkansas’ 24-17 overtime loss to Mississippi State last Saturday, has 86 stops. Linebacker Braylon Mitchell, who did not play against the Bulldogs, is second on the team with 70 tackles.
Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said the honor is well deserved for Turner, who had 18 tackles in his previous two seasons at Arkansas. In fact, Ash said coach Bret Bielema wanted the staff to list some of the team’s best players on both sides of the ball and believed selecting Turner was an easy choice.
“I listed Alan Turner as one of our better players and the reason is every week he shows up and he’s the same player,” Ash said. “He’s not perfect. He doesn’t make every play, doesn’t make every tackle. But the thing that he does do is he goes extremely hard and he tries to play physical.”
Turner started the season as the third safety in Arkansas’ nickel defense package, but moved into the starting role when Rohan Gaines suffered a knee injury in the opener. Gaines is back, but Turner has maintained his spot alongside Eric Bennett and is one of three defensive players to start every game (Bennett, Chris Smith).
“When I first got here I knew it might take some time because I had to develop,” Turner said. “My redshirt year really helped me because I had to get stronger and I got better and finally got my chance and tried to make the best of it.”
His 16 tackles against Mississippi State were the second-most in a Southeastern Conference game this season. It also was the most by a Razorback since 2010, when former linebacker Jerry Franklin had 20 stops against the Bulldogs.
Turner will be the second straight safety to lead Arkansas in tackles after Ross Rasner had 92 stops in a hybrid role last season. The tackle total is high for a safety, but Ash said Arkansas expects its safeties to make plays and Turner has done it.
“With the way we structure our defense, we need to get the safeties involved,” Turner said. “When you’re talking about teams that run the ball like some of the teams do in this league, especially with the quarterback, you need to use the safeties in the run game. We’re not good enough to say we’re going to be a 2-deep team and keep the safeties out of it. They’re going to get production, and they better.”
Allen on the Eggs
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen shrugged off the fact his truck was pelted by eggs after last Saturday’s loss. The sophomore described it as “fun and games.”
“I mean, it’s just kind of things that come with the position of quarterback,” Allen said of the attention. “Obviously, a lot of people look at you to do good and when that doesn’t happen there’s a lot of frustrated people out there. I just think it’s one way for them to take out their frustration.”
Teammate Austin Tate made the egging public when he tweeted a photo of Allen’s truck Saturday night. Tate also wrote: “Thanks for the support fans..really makes us want to keep going and change the situation we’re in!” The tweet was later deleted.
“I probably wouldn’t have said anything about it,” Allen said about Tate’s reaction to the incident. “He’s obviously mad for me. That’s just one way for him to take out his frustration. Obviously not a big deal for us. It’s over with.”
Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will be coaching his third game in LSU’s Tiger Stadium on Saturday. And if the previous two trips to Baton Rouge, La., are any indication, the Razorbacks and Tigers could be in store for something unusual.
Chaney’s first experience came as the offensive coordinator at Cal State-Fullerton in 1987, but the game was delayed before kickoff because of bad weather. It didn’t stop Mike the Tiger, the school’s live mascot, from trying to intimidate Cal State-Fullerton before LSU went on to win 56-12 during a 10-1-1 season.
“It was one of the first games ever postponed because of lightning,” Chaney said of the delay. “All I can remember is that Tiger screaming the whole time we were in the locker room. … It sounded like he was right in our locker room.”
Chaney’s second Tiger Stadium experience came when he was Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in 2010. The game ended in bizarre fashion when the Volunteers were penalized for having too many men on the field for the final play. It gave LSU a second chance, which it cashed in for a touchdown to escape with a 16-14 win.
“I really don’t care to go there too many times,” Chaney said.
Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman was impressed by guard Denver Kirkland’s play against the Bulldogs. He said it was the freshman’s best performance since stepping into the starting lineup against Texas A&M in late September.
“He was one of our best linemen on either side of the ball on Saturday,” Pittman said. “Obviously, he’s playing with a high amount of confidence now, and he knows what he’s doing. (Texas) A&M, Florida, those games, he’s waiting on (center) Travis (Swanson) to tell him everything and Travis can. But if something moves right before the ball’s snapped, now he understands it where before he was lost.”
Kirkland and guard Dan Skipper will start their eighth straight game at LSU on Saturday. It also will be one of the season’s biggest tests for the freshmen.
“Dan’s playing with better leverage and those things, and we know we’ve got him inside where he should be an outside player, but he’s one of our five best players,” Pittman said. “But both those guys play extremely hard.”